Breast Lump At 30
In early August this year, I found a small lump on my upper left breast close-ish to my armpit area. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was just in my head, so I kept checking it. And checking it. And checking it. It was kind of confusing, because whenever I would hear the word “breast lump” I would picture a marble-sized lump (or bigger) that you could visibly see through the skin, not a small little pea deeper in the tissue, so I honestly wasn’t sure if it really was a “lump” or not. But I did know that it was something different that I’ve never felt before, and the other side did not have it.
My mom’s family tree is sadly full of cancer, including 3 cases of breast cancer (3 of my mom’s sisters). The most devastating case was the first; my Aunt Heidi passed away from stage 4 breast cancer in 1997, at just 33 years old; she was 30 when she was diagnosed. I’m 30. So naturally, I knew right away that I needed to get it checked out, just to be safe. Unfortunately, I don’t have health insurance right now, so that made things a little interesting. I started googling free breast checks in Colorado while I waited for Aaron to get home to tell him about it. He was a little shaken up about it because he knew my family history, and I had him check to verify that there really was something there and it wasn’t just me being a spazz. When he could feel it too I really jumped into action. Part of me had been hoping it was just in my head.
That late afternoon I started calling every resource I could find about getting a free breast check, which sadly wasn’t very many. I was shocked to find how difficult it was to find resources for that, and I told my mom on the phone that night that if it was October I probably could’ve found 10-15 different places offering free checks. If only all lumps were found in October. Breast cancer and breast lumps (benign or malignant) happen year round, not just during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we need to get better about offering this stuff year round to women.
I’m all for Breast Cancer Month. I think it’s super important, but where are those bright pink buses the other 11 months of the year? The few resources I could find have age restrictions, you have to be at least 40 years old. I realize that breast cancer is most commonly found in women 40+, but there are thousands of cases every year of women who are under 40 being diagnosed with it, including my Aunt Heidi. There HAS to be resources available for women in this younger demographic to receive help, especially in this crazy health care system we’ve got going on in America. I’m not going to make this political, because I don’t like that, but I think it’s common knowledge that healthcare is way too expensive in this country, and so is health insurance. Thankfully Aaron and the kids all have insurance, but right now it’s just too expensive for me to have it. And even if I did have insurance, they kind of control everything now so they could’ve denied any necessary diagnostic tests because of my age.
Without it, I was looking at paying a minimum of $100 for a discounted self-pay appointment at my OB-GYN’s office, and that was just for a clinical breast exam. Any diagnostics would be out of pocket too, and while discounted, still very expensive. So I knew that I needed to try to find some kind of resource to help if possible. We would have rearranged our budget if we needed to, but for something potentially life-threatening, it’s sad that we would have had to. How many women ignore potentially malignant lumps every month, simply because they have no way of affording to get it looked at? That truly breaks my heart.
I ended up contacting the American Cancer Society, spoke to the nicest person ever over there, and they gave me a local number to call for a program in our county. When I called, a very nice lady spoke to me about the program, verified that I would qualify, and scheduled me an appointment for the next day (a Wednesday). The program is called the Women’s Wellness Connection, which is a program in Colorado that offers free breast and cervical cancer screenings to women throughout the state. If you live in Colorado and are interested in learning more about the program or finding out if you’re eligible, go here.
The program is essentially an annual visit, so if you’re in need of one they’ll do a Pap smear and pelvic check, blood work checking cholesterol and A1C values, and also a clinical breast exam (CBE). The CBE was what I was solely interested in, but I went along with the rest because 1) my mom’s side has cervical/ovarian cancer issues as well, and 2) no insurance happening in my near future, so not sure when my next annual visit would be anyway.
When she started the CBE, I was hoping that she would be like “I don’t actually feel anything, that’s just normal tissue,” but unfortunately she did feel it. She did say that she thought it was probably just a fibrocystic thing (which is completely benign and common), but that because of my family history she wants them to check it again the following week when I go back in for the fasting bloodwork. She explained that fibrocystic lumps tend to get smaller at that point in your monthly cycle. So my appointment was scheduled for the following Wednesday. I was instructed to try not to check the lump until the appointment because it could make it more inflamed and falsely bigger. So as difficult as it was, I left it alone.
I made it to my second appointment, this time all 3 kids in tow (Aaron had to work), fully expecting to hear that it was in fact, just a fibrocystic lump, and no need for further tests. The blood work was first, which took 2 tries because my veins think its funny to roll and hide (it’s not). Then it was time for the CBE. I showed her where the lump was, and she said: “I think we’ll go ahead and get a mammogram or ultrasound scheduled for you.” When she came back in after calling to set up a scan, she told me that they will be doing BOTH a mammogram and ultrasound and will have to do both breasts. I was really nervous that they wanted to do both tests, but she said it was because it’s my first screen and I’m so young. It still seemed a bit intense, though, you know? Overwhelming at the very least. The test was scheduled for the following Wednesday (what was with Wednesday appointments?).
The Freak Out
I had stayed pretty calm about it all for the most part, but every so often the uncertainty and possibility would hit me. A few days before the tests, I had been totally fine about it all day, and then when it was time for my brain to start winding down for sleep, it jumped into double overdrive. I started overanalyzing E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. I was noticing every tiny little difference between my lump boob and my non-lump boob, constantly asking Aaron “do you see this too?” “What about this?” “Is this boob [the lumpy one] hanging noticeably lower than the other one?” “Have these ripples on this side always been there?” Etc etc. (If you’re a man and you’re reading this, sorry for the TMI, and if you’re a woman and are uncomfortable reading this, you have boobies too so calm down.)
Aaron indulged me for a bit, and then calmly intervened and told me that we couldn't worry about that stuff yet. We didn’t know what was to come, but we couldn't drive ourselves crazy in the meantime worrying about it. It felt good to talk about it with him, to say some of my fears out loud, to have him listen and understand and comfort me, and also gently remind me that I couldn’t be in control of this. He knows how my brain has a hard time shutting off when it starts on this path, so he just started praying out loud over me. Prayed for healing of whatever was causing the lump, benign or malignant or whatever. Prayed for comfort and peace and prayed for my brain to quiet down and let me sleep. It was amazing and beautiful and intimate and, it worked. After that, I was able to shut out the noise and fall asleep and sleep well. I think I will remember that moment forever.
It’s so good to have reminders that ultimately God is in control, and to remember Matthew 6:27 “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Nope, nope I can’t.
The following week I had my mammogram and ultrasound, and I’m so blessed to report that both scans were normal! NO CANCER!!! I will be doing a post on what to expect for your first mammogram and ultrasound on Wednesday but didn’t want to leave you wondering what the outcome was until then.
Here are some resources if you ever find a lump or other breast change (lumps are not the only thing to watch for!! The Worldwide Breast Cancer Organization has a genius photo of lemons depicting the 12 different breast changes to be aware of. The whole website has a wealth of information and is doing great work to spread education and awareness around the world.
If you have health insurance they are required to provide screening at no charge to you. However, if you have a lump or other symptom they can charge you your co-pay/deductible as it’s then considered a “diagnostic” test and not a screening. Pretty lame if you ask me.
If you don’t have health insurance and are under 40 and don’t have any symptoms: Keep checking your boobs every month for changes, and if you see any get it checked ASAP.
If you don’t have health insurance and are under 40 like me and do have any breast cancer symptom(s):
The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program will be the best place to find a location near you to get checked out. You will need to meet an income eligibility. The Women’s Wellness Connection is Colorado’s program and is what I used to get my lump checked. They will do a normal annual exam (pap, blood work, and clinical breast exam [which is where they feel your breasts for lumps]). It is totally worth doing all portions of the program because 1) it’s important to make sure you’re healthy all around, and 2) they will be able to set you up with any diagnostic screening that is necessary (and the tests including the mammogram and ultrasound were completely free as part of this program. If I had needed a biopsy, that would have been covered as well).
The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program is offered in every state, and their website has an interactive map where you can click on your state and pull up the contact information for your state’s program, as well as program eligibility information.
If you know of any other resources for free or low-cost breast checks and diagnostic testing, please comment with their information!
If you find a lump or notice any other breast change, try not to panic. It’s more than likely perfectly fine. It is important to get it checked out though because early detection has a 98% survival rate. I truly understand how scary it is to find a lump, though, so know that you are not alone. The uncertainty and “what ifs” can be paralyzing, but remember that our God is bigger and you are never alone.